Matt Miazga felt 'screwed' by Gregg Berhalter and USMNT last cycle - Gold Cup is his chance to prove his worth

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The former Chelsea defender was left unhappy with the last international cycle, but this is his chance to resurrect his career with the USMNT.

The Gold Cup, traditionally, has been an opportunity for U.S. men's national team players and this year's edition is no different as it comes at the start of a World Cup cycle. The USMNT player pool is currently transforming as the focus moves away from 2022 and towards 2026. The squad has several young players that could be a real force by the time the next World Cup rolls around and it also includes several veterans fighting to keep their place.

But the most interesting player in the squad might just be Matt Miazga, a player that falls right in the middle of those two descriptions. At 27, Miazga is very much in his prime and he does have 23 caps to his name, but just five of those have come in the last four years.

Miazga never quite broke through during Gregg Berhalter's first cycle and, upon the expiration of the coach's contract, the former Chelsea center-back certainly let loose. He said he felt "screwed" under the previous regime and was looking forward to a new chance and a clean slate under a new manager.

Berhalter, of course, has since returned, making that slate far less clean than it could have been.

Because of that, this tournament is massive for Miazga, who may not get a chance quite like this again. As the center-back pool shifts, Miazga could very well put himself into the mix with a good tournament as he looks to impress Berhalter.

If Miazga wants to ensure he doesn't feel screwed again in three years time, moments like this are the ones he'll have to seize.

  1. Escaping Chelsea's loan army

    Escaping Chelsea's loan army

    Miazga isn't the only player to be caught in the whirlpool that is Chelsea's loan system, but he certainly had quite an experience during his time with the club.

    Originally signed from the New York Red Bulls in 2015, he made two Premier League appearances before embarking on a series of loans. Two seasons at Vitesse, one at Nantes, two at Reading, one at Anderlecht and one at Alaves later, it's safe to say Miazga had quite a ride on the loan rollercoaster.

    “I’ve been able to live in so many different countries – play football, my passion, in so many different countries," Miazga said in 2022. "And meet so many new people, so many lifelong friends that I’ll always have, teammates and people within the clubs that I played at, as well as immersing myself in new cultures, new places to live, and learn.

    “When I look back, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

    On the international level, he was something of a regular from 2017 to 2019, featuring 16 times across those years while playing in two Gold Cups. His clash with Diego Lainez instantly solidified his place in USMNT lore but, despite that, he never truly forced his way into the first team. He was a Gold Cup regular, for sure, but was never quite close enough to the top pairing.

    In 2022, Miazga finally found himself a permanent home seven years after leaving MLS, with that providing him the best platform yet to impress the USMNT.

  2. Settling in Cincy
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    Settling in Cincy

    Miazga finally made his permanent move from Chelsea in August 2022, signing with FC Cincinnati on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

    It didn't take long for him to establish his spot as a top defender, featuring in 12 games in all competitions in his first half-season with the club. With Miazga in defense behind a star attacking trio of Brandon Vazquez, Brenner and Luciano Acosta, FC Cincinnati defeated the defender's former club, the New York Red Bulls, in the first round of the MLS Playoffs before falling to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia Union.

    To start the 2023 season, Miazga has once again been ever-present, having already played 20 games in all competitions. In less than one full season, he's established himself as one of the top defenders in MLS as Cincinnati has already built a massive lead atop the Supporters' Shield standings.

    Additionally, Miazga has sealed a USMNT return. He featured in an April friendly against Mexico, coming on as a 70th-minute substitute in the 1-1 draw, before being named to the USMNT's Gold Cup squad this summer.

  3. 'We didn't see eye to eye'

    'We didn't see eye to eye'

    As the 2022 World Cup inched closer, it became abundantly clear that Miazga wouldn't be a part of it. After making just two appearances in 2021, he was totally excluded all through 2022 before being left out of the squad for the final pre-World Cup friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Japan.

    In the end, Berhalter went with Tim Ream, Walker Zimmerman, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Long at center-back, with the decision to call in Ream proving to be a masterstroke. Chris Richards missed out due to injury while Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown were in that next group, alongside Miazga, that didn't make the cut.

    Shortly before the World Cup, Miazga admitted that he didn't have the best relationship with Berhalter, which he believes was one reason he hadn't really been involved.

    “We didn’t see eye to eye on a few things in the past and that has affected me from being called up. But it is what it is,” Miazga said in October. “I’d like to say a few things but I’ll refrain from that. You guys will eventually find out.

    “I’m always ready to play for the national team. But I don’t make the decisions. There’s one guy that makes the decisions and that’s how it goes.”

    Back in April, Miazga again said that he felt like he was being excluded, once again hinting at his frustration with Berhalter.

    "I told you guys last time, I was screwed over multiple times in the past," he told the Enquirer. "Yeah, I think it is what it is. I always felt like I should be a part of that group throughout my career, especially the last few years. And now that I'm back in this capacity, the state that we're in with an interim manager, I'm grateful to be able to show my face again and try to stamp my ground again."

  4. An awkward reunion

    An awkward reunion

    The above, of course, makes things a bit awkward given Berhalter's return. Miazga would have been excited for a chance to impress a new manager with some new ideas for the player pool. Instead, the U.S. is sticking with Berhalter as they look to build on, not undo, what went on last cycle.

    That makes life a bit tougher for Miazga. His comments no doubt came with the belief that he wouldn't have to go through this process with Berhalter again. Now, he'll have to impress the man that he doesn't see eye to eye with.

    Berhalter, of course, isn't coaching in the Gold Cup, with interim boss B.J. Callaghan in charge. But, at some point, Miazga will almost certainly need to have a talk with Berhalter if he is to rejoin the full USMNT.

    Miazga isn't the only player destined for one of those awkward conversations. Players like Gio Reyna, Zack Steffen and Ricardo Pepi are also due for some meetings with Berhalter before he takes charge of his first games in the fall.

    The above, though, are players that featured prominently before having things fall apart for them before or during the World Cup. Miazga, meanwhile, wasn't even in the picture, as he certainly has some ground to make up going forward.

    Doing so is possible, of course. Ream is getting older, while Long's start to life at LAFC hasn't been ideal. There are positions up for grabs; it's just up to Miazga to seize one.

  5. The road ahead
    Octavio Passos/Getty Images

    The road ahead

    The Gold Cup will be vital for Miazga as this is his chance to make a statement. He may have felt screwed last cycle, but this is his first chance to really make himself undeniable.

    Regular starter Miles Robinson is in camp, although he is dealing with a knock. The other options are veteran Long and U-20 star Jalen Neal. If Robinson can't go, there's a very good chance that Miazga will get the start in the opener against Jamaica and, even if the Atlanta United defender does make it, Miazga may very well be the best partner to play next to him.

    Regardless of who he plays next to, this tournament is key for Miazga. The full team will reassemble in the fall and Berhalter will have the opportunity to choose from the full player pool for that first camp in charge. Miazga faces stiff competition, of course, and a lot can change between now and then with transfers, form and injuries, but it's vital for Miazga to put his best foot forward now that we'll then have a better idea of what the road ahead can look like.

    Will he do it? We'll find out over the next few weeks. Miazga felt he was overlooked last cycle, perhaps rightfully so. But now he has three years to make sure that doesn't happen again. The countdown to 2026 is officially underway.